Suffer little children amid the sheer horror of a brief test
It has come to the attention of the authorities that school is placing some youngsters under so much pressure that it might be safer to abolish it entirely and replace it with a network of self-esteem centres where the kiddies are told that they’re all doing a great job with everything and should be really proud of themselves.
This would be the logical end result of the research released this week which found that the NAPLAN tests for grades three, five, seven and nine were placing so much pressure on students that some of them are crying, getting tummy aches and even vomiting ahead of these apparently onerous exams. About 90 per cent of the teachers who responded said that stress was an issue.
I am not setting out to rubbish the research, conducted by the University of Melbourne at the behest of the Whitlam Institute, but to question whether the intention of the teachers who filled in the survey was coloured more by an industrial agenda than a focus on learning for kids and transparency for parents.
The idea of the NAPLAN tests is to have a standardised baseline measure so that students across the nation can be measured against their peers, factoring in issues of economic disadvantage. It is the first time that parents have been able to get a clear overall sense of how their child is performing.
This is a good thing.
I am convinced that the reason the teachers union has railed against it is that parents might start asking questions of their members as to why their child is struggling. It’s a fair question for parents to ask. The fact that it has been resisted by the Australian Education Union and its state union affiliates is in keeping with their long-standing hostility towards data-based measurement of teacher performance, in the same way that every other profession on earth is measured.
The finding that some children are getting strung out by being tested looks like a bit of deliberate tugging at the emotional heart-strings on the part of the respondents to get parents on side.
I doubt the tactic will work, and really hope that it doesn’t work. Most parents want their kids to be put under a degree of pressure. You want them to be stretched. You also want to know how they are faring, which you couldn’t before NAPLAN was introduced.
The absence of testing only sets kids up to fail down the track. If anything, schooling has become less onerous than it was 20 years ago anyway. When I did my matriculation in the mid-80s we had one shot at the title. Year 12 was all that mattered and 100 per cent of our results came from the end of year exams. Now there is more continuous examination throughout the course of the year, making the exams count for less than they once did.
The hostility towards NAPLAN is also a reflection of two depressing modern trends – our unease about robust and constructive criticism, and an absurd level of hysteria about the pressures young people face.
The first trend can be seen in its most obvious and often hilarious form at sports nights, where even the most uncoordinated or indolent or cowardly child will line up and get a medal. I should know, as I’m the proud owner of the coveted award for the Marion High Under 13s Aussie Rules team’s “Most Attentive at Training”, which should really have been engraved with the words “Hopeless blouse who spent the season hiding in the back pocket.”
The second trend of over-estimating pressure is evidenced by the swift capitulation of so many parents to their kids’ demands to attend the nonsense that is schoolies week, as if they have just endured some unparalleled ordeal, like going off war or something. School is hardly a near-death experience. A bit of early pressure is not only healthy, it is absolutely necessary, as life involves heaps of pressure.
Without instruments such as NAPLAN, or plain English report cards, or actual meaningful grades, we will be none the wiser as to how prepared they are for life beyond school.
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